It’s hard to do a superhero story these days. The superhero is so ingrained in our public consciousness that any variation on it has about as much potential for originality as a sorority tank top. Such is the burden of “No Ordinary Family”, ABC’s new drama about a regular family blessed (and cursed) with amazing superpowers.
Now, as an unabashed superhero geek, as my endless hours expounding about how Batman can defeat every comic-book character ever — including Archie and Garfield, it’s hard not to see how hackneyed and clichéd everything in this show is. “No Ordinary Family” plays out like a second-rate “Incredibles,” which was a second-rate “Fantastic Four.” There is no new insight into the already crowded superhero genre; the dysfunctional family aspect — which the aforementioned “Incredibles” covered quite adequately — remains covered quite adequately (but no more than that.) Even the fact that the characters don’t wear spandex and reside in a semi-realistic world finds genesis in the far-superior show “Heroes” (well, the first season anyway).
There’s a scene in the middle of the pilot episode that’s emblematic of “No Ordinary Family’s” shoddy writing. The father of the super family, Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis) hands his friend, an Assistant DA (“40 Year Old Virgin’s” Romany Malco) a gun to shoot Powell to prove that he has bulletproof skin. In broad daylight. At a theme park. And the DA takes the gun. And later shoots it. I mean, sure it proves that Jim has bulletproof skin, but…
Look, I can handle fat bald guys jumping forty feet in the air and being able to block bullets with their hands, but I draw the line at an Assistant DA willingly shooting a gun in public and in broad daylight (I think that point needs to be stressed). That stretched my suspension of disbelief far more than seeing a woman run 600 mph and not break her high heels from friction. It’s not an elegant way for Jim to gain his friend’s trust. And that’s just one scene.
That’s not to say it’s not without its charms. One of these charms is its main character, Jim, as played by Michael Chiklis (who should be used to dysfunctionalize superhero families by now, as he was the saving grace in the cinematic atrocity “Fantastic Four” and its abominable sequel). Here Chiklis doesn’t play gruff like his hardened police officer on “SHIELD” or even Ben Grimm from “Fantastic Four,” and is rather soft and good-natured; it’s a good change for him, and effective. The character is underwritten, but Chiklis’ natural charisma more than makes up for it. Too bad the other family members don’t fare as well as he does, and remain one-dimensional stereotypes. You know: the rebellious teen daughter; the over-worked, career-driven mom; and the insecure, aloof son. They don’t make much of an impression, except for the son, played by Jimmy Bennett. His line delivery has less emotion in it than Ben Stein on Xanax, and he has the screen presence of a plank of wood, although the wood would be more talented and versatile.
But, despite all the show’s flaws, I’ll still stay tuned every week and watch every episode. What can I say? I love superheroes. I actually own the movie “Spawn,” watched all four seasons of “Heroes,” and even enjoyed “Daredevil.” So make of that what you will. There are some good special effects (especially for a TV budget) and good character moments scattered throughout the otherwise sappy, cliché-ridden show. Watching “No Ordinary Family” and enjoying it is dependent on how well you can handle mediocrity for the sake of a handful of cool scenes and characters.